Sunday, June 26, 2016

A Henry James Stick-Up Note

A few years after the West was won, notorious outlaws Frank and Jesse James were joined on their nefarious trail by their East Coast cousins, Henry and William. No record survives of pioneering psychologist William James's youthful criminal activities, but a document recently acquired by the Harry Ransom Center (for a hairy ransom in unmarked bills) sheds a small amount of light on prose master Henry James's heretofore unknown career as a frontier bank robber. Written in James's hand on a tattered, heavily creased and suspiciously stained napkin from Delmonico's, it reads:

Given--and it is, assuredly, a situation for which I offer my most profuse and elaborate, indeed positively Byzantine, apologies--that my right palm caresses the unfortunately named handle piece of an unmentionable product of the Smith and Wesson manufactory, and that the aforesaid object is, as the gauche are wont to say, 'aimed' in the general direction of your cranial compartment, it would behoove you to transfer, posthaste, the entirety of the foldable and numismatical contents of the drawer devant vous into the conveniently provided burlap receptacle accompanying this overhasty communication, said receptacle's dark maw hungrily gaping as though consciously, not to say avidly, desiring the cold comfort of coin.

To date, researchers have found no further documentary evidence related to this episode in James's life, so the entire affair will likely remain, like the interpretation of The Turn of the Screw, shrouded in the multiple mummycloths of mystery.

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